January 26, 2023

Can you guess what is pictured in the photo above? Click the image for the answer and more.

Well, I guess winter finally decided to rear its ugly head after all. I hope you all managed to stay safe and warm in spite of the snow!

It was a rough week for the county for more reasons than the weather: Washtenaw saw its first murder of the year, a man died after falling from a parking structure, and the biggest downtown fire in decades engulfed two Ann Arbor businesses. An alleged bank robbery was thwarted and a fight broke out at a murder sentencing, Ann Arbor’s planning commission approved a $10 million design for a new eco-friendly fire station, and the county commission is poised to establish a reparations council.

On campus, a professor accused of falsifying research data left, a football co-offensive coordinator was fired after an investigation into alleged “computer access crimes,” the volleyball team got a new head coach with Olympic gold credentials, and the Diag squirrels may have mange.

On a personal note, this is my final issue as a2view editor. I’ve loved keeping you up-to-date with the latest local news over the last year but, as I’m no longer a local myself, starting this week I’ll be taking a job as a teaching fellow here at Yale and focusing on my master’s degree. I leave you in the capable hands of Steve Friess, who wrote the body of this week’s newsletter and will introduce himself properly next Thursday, when I’ll join your ranks as a fellow reader.

—Dayton Hare, editor

Firefighters battled a devastating fire on Maynard St. downtown early Friday that gutted Madras Masala and Vape City. Photo courtesy Ann Arbor Fire Department.

The News...Briefly

The Washtenaw County Health department reported forty-one new Covid cases, three hospitalizations, and no deaths in the twenty-four hours ending Wednesday at 10 a.m. The two-week snapshot had not been updated at time of publication. The Covid risk level was reported as “high” due to a statistical anomaly: Last Thursday’s update caused the CDC to elevate our rating–but only  because they were just now counting some cases missed  between September and December, the health department explained in a press release. Based only on current cases, the risk level remains “medium;” it will update again at 8 p.m. today.

Madras Masala, Vape City gutted by Friday morning inferno: The massive fire at 326 and 328 Maynard St. in downtown Ann Arbor consumed the seventy-six-year-old building that housed both businesses. The blaze started in the Indian restaurant’s kitchen ventilation system, the fire department reported on Facebook. In a GoFundMe plea, Vape City owner Adwan Abed wrote, “Everything is gone.” Madras Masala’s owners told MLive they hope to reopen.

Plymouth resident Andrea Grant was found shot to death in an SUV last Thursday outside the Den gym in the Airport Plaza Business Park, ClickOnDetroit reports. Michael Elinski, who Pittsfield police had identified as a suspect, was found dead in his Clare home the next morning from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Man dies in fall from parking deck: A caller to 911 on Wednesday afternoon said the man appeared to be jumping off the Ann-Ashley parking structure downtown, MLive reports. Police are investigating the incident as a suicide; securing parking decks to prevent self-harm has been an issue for years.

Sentencing in murder case interrupted by family fight: Layrus Dottery pleaded guilty in Dec. to second-degree murder for shooting Devion Brooks at an Ypsilanti Township gas station last May. Though Dottery expressed remorse at the time, his sentencing hearing last Thursday had to be halted when an argument between family members escalated into a scuffle, MLive reports. After a two-hour recess, Dottery was sentenced to fifteen to thirty-five years.

Dexter man and dog killed in car crash: Karl Weber’s car caught fire on Saturday morning after crashing near the intersection of Lima Center and Seitz roads. Autopsy and toxicology reports are pending, and Michigan State Police suggested the incident may be alcohol-related, WILX reports.

Alleged bank robber arrested 6 minutes after crime: Richmond Starbuck of Ann Arbor is accused of demanding money via a note passed to a teller at the Chase Bank branch on W. Stadium on Jan. 14. Starbuck’s note also said he was not armed, according to a Facebook post by the Ann Arbor Police Department. Police did not say how much money the bank teller provided; Starbuck was released on a $5,000 personal recognizance bond.

Blake Corum’s customized 2017 Camaro stolen: U-M’s star running back reported his distinctive car – wrapped in black-and-white camouflage, emblazoned with BC2 on the side to represent his initials and uniform number, Virginia plates – had been swiped from a parking garage near his home, the New York Post reported. Corum tweeted the car was a high school graduation gift from his parents. “God bless whoever stole it,” he wrote.

New state rep. Felicia Brabec introduces bill to remove 1931 abortion law: The Democratic former county commissioner brought forth the measure days before the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The repeal would be the final nail in the coffin for a statute that made abortion a felony but lay dormant since Roe until last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision. Michigan voters invalidated the 1931 law with a constitutional amendment in November.

County committee to study reparations: A final vote on whether to establish the Advisory Council on Reparations is expected before the Washtenaw County Commission on Feb. 1, but the commission unanimously approved it in its first reading on Jan. 18. The council plans to study a potential plan to compensate Black residents for the systemic and generational damage done by slavery, mass incarceration, and legal racial discrimination, MLive reports.

Olympic coach named to lead U-M volleyball team: Erin Virtue, who helped Team USA’s volleyball squad win its first-ever gold at the Brazil Games, replaces Mark Rosen, ClickOnDetroit reports. Rosen’s Wolverines never won a Big Ten Championship in his 24 years at the helm, and he was fired in December. Virtue was an assistant under Rosen in 2012 when the team went to the Final Four and will remain offensive coordinator for Team USA through the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

Big House to widen tunnel in wake of MSU/U-M incidents: The nation’s largest stadium will remove forty-five seats in a redesign of the area around the player entrance and exit and make the passageway wider, the Detroit News reports. This change is meant to reduce the ability of fans to touch players or coaches, as one did to MSU head coach Mel Tucker at the Oct. 29 game. Teams will also be separated as they leave the field to reduce the risk of fights like the one that led to the prosecution of seven Spartans after the MSU vs. Michigan game.

Football coach fired amid probe into computer misuse: Co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Matt Weiss was put on leave earlier in the month when university police began looking into a “report of computer access crimes” at Schembechler Hall in Dec., the Free Press reports. The university cut ties on Friday; Weiss tweeted that he looks “forward to putting this matter behind” him.

U-M researcher accused of falsifying data retires: Five published academic papers authored by Chung Owyang, a much-honored gastroenterology researcher, have been retracted since Nov. at the university’s request amid a probe, the Detroit News reports.

Michigan Panthers to practice at EMU: The second season of the rebooted USFL will find the Detroit-based team playing their games  at Ford Field and, according to the News, using EMU facilities for practices. Last year, all games by all eight teams were played in Birmingham, Alabama. The league’s 2023 season runs from April to June, with practices starting in mid-March, according to a USFL press release. As part of the USFL’s “hub” system, the Philadelphia Stars will consider Ford Field and EMU as their home this season.

Eco-friendly fire station could cost $10 million, Chief Kennedy says: The new Station 4, which would replace a 1960s-era station on Huron Pkwy., would be the state’s first to be all-electric and solar-powered. The planning commission last week unanimously approved the plans, but the city does not yet have funding lined up for the effort, MLive reports.

“I’ve watched this building closely for four decades, and I’m aware of its sad history,” says local real estate developer Ed Shaffran, whose office is across the street. He credits Joe Barbat with doing “an unbelievably nice job” on its conversion to the Montgomery Houze apartments. Barbat sold it last summer for $21 million. Credit: Mark Bialek.

Last summer’s sale of Montgomery Houze capped the turnaround of the 200 block of S. Fourth Ave., Cynthia Furlong Reynolds writes in January’s Observer, The long-neglected section has for decades been dragged down by the epic misfortunes of the town’s original Montgomery Ward’s site. Ward’s, which opened in 1928, moved to Arborland after a 1960 fire and the story on S. Fourth just got worse from there. Developer Joe Barbat, who bought the building out of foreclosure, sold the renovated property for $21 million.

Life as owner of a taxi service in the era of rideshare apps is rough, but Ann Arbor Cab owner Merlyn Wade is making it work, Eve Silberman reports in this month’s Observer. Wade, who moved here in 2006 to start his company, still has an eight-Prius fleet and is determined to keep operations going despite the mass migration – by both riders and drivers – to Uber and Lyft. About half his income comes from calls from hospitals to take discharged patients home– one, he tells Silberman, lived in Chicago.

U-M study suggests reusable takeout containers may not help: An analysis of a pilot program by Ann Arbor’s Live Zero Waste found that the water used to clean containers and the carbon emissions involved with driving them back to restaurants may nullify the environmental value of the endeavor. The study by researchers at the Center for Sustainable Systems asserted that to reap environmental benefits, the city would need to educate consumers as well as persuade restaurants to standardize carry-out packaging.

Pot really does relieve chronic pain, U-M study finds: Almost a third – 31 percent – of study respondents said using cannabis helped them, with more than half of those folks saying they reduced their use of prescription opioids, the Michigan Daily reports. The research led by Mark Bicket, an assistant professor at the School of Anesthesiology, is another data point in a field that can be difficult to study because the drug is illegal federally.

AADL adds more Narcan vending machines: Since installing the first one in April at the downtown location, the library got such positive feedback that they’ve installed vending machines at every branch, the Daily reports. The anti-overdose kits are free.

Campus squirrels may have mange: Spare a thought for the notoriously gigantic squirrels that stalk the U-M campus as they battle hair loss, the Daily reports. An expert tells the paper the patchy rodents may have mange or a contagious fungal infection as a result of bumping up against one another too often in the scramble for food tossed their way by students.

Megabus is now offering rides to Detroit from Ann Arbor, Ypsi: The budget transportation company announced a new partnership that will enable them to restart and expand Detroit-based routes that were axed in 2020 due to the pandemic, the Detroit News reports.

As Arborland’s Bed Bath & Beyond prepares to close, writer/artist Sarah Innes tells and illustrates her tale of taking home a praying mantis found in her shopping basket in this month’s Observer. It goes as well as could be expected, which is to say everybody did what came naturally.

Nordin's new Ann St. gallery is right next door to the WSG Gallery and around the corner from the Gutman Gallery in what Nordin calls Kerrytown’s “mini arts district.” Credit: Trilby MacDonald.

Marketplace Changes

Chris Nordin has transformed his Ann St. office into an art gallery, Trilby MacDonald reports in the January Observer. A rotating series of exhibitions by guest artists complement his own collection, which is made mostly on commission for individuals and corporate buyers.

Vegetarian Indian restaurant Earthen Jar may close its Ann Arbor location as it pivots to a new Ypsi spot, MLive reports (subscriber exclusive). A rash of recent break-ins at the building on Division may be the last straw as the owners weigh whether to focus entirely on Ypsilanti; meanwhile, Mediterranean restaurant Spiedo has delayed its opening in the old Chela’s location next door due to supply chain issues, MLive reports. The restaurant is now expected to open this spring.

Head shop Stairway To Heaven, Sparrow Kitchen, and the Hungry Howie’s in Plymouth-Green Crossings all closed in the tail end of last year, Dave Algase reports in the January Observer. Sparrow lasted a mere seven months before succumbing to staff shortages, but Stairway To Heaven was upstairs on State St. for thirty-five years and served a storied clientele — including the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, and Wavy Gravy — before the pandemic drove it under. Hungry Howie’s still has two locations in town, on Washtenaw and W. Stadium.


Food Gatherers lands $100,000 grant: The influx from the Vera and Joseph Dresner Foundation is going to emergency food purchases at a time when inflation is driving up grocery prices, ClickOnDetroit reports. The foundation previously supported the food bank’s Covid relief efforts.

WCC, EMU launch free childcare training program: Amid a dearth of childcare workers, the community college now offers a two-semester certificate program paid for by the county and other donors, MLive reports. Credits earned through online classes and a two-semester practicum can be transferred to EMU if the student wants to pursue a four-year degree.

Discounted radon home tests available until Jan. 31: The Washtenaw County Health Department is selling the air-testing kits for $5 during Radon Action Month, ClickOnDetroit reports. They’re available at the county’s Western Washtenaw County Service Center, 705 N. Zeeb Rd, between 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., and the Ypsilanti Township Civic Center, 7200 S. Huron River Dr., between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer deaths in the U.S., and Southeast Michigan is a radon hotspot. 

Things to Do

By Jennifer Taylor

26 Thursday: Writer and filmmaker Paul Auster, who rose to prominence with a series of postmodern detective stories The New York Trilogy, discusses (via Zoom) his new book, Bloodbath Nation, a searing account of America’s use and abuse of guns. Auster is joined by photographer Spencer Ostrander, whose powerful black & white images of abandoned sites of mass shootings punctuate the book. Literati Bookstore/Books & Books Miami Virtual Event. 8 p.m., literatibookstore.com/event/2023-01. Free. 585–5567.

28 Saturday: Join the Huron River Watershed Council’s Annual Winter Stonefly Search, part of a watershed-wide hunt with experienced researchers for these elusive river insects, which are active only in winter when fish are sluggish. Dress for the weather. Children must be with an adult. Two sessions: 9 a.m.–1 p.m. & 10:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., meet at 117 N. First St., ste. 100. Free, preregistration required at HRWC.org/volunteer/stonefly. 769–5123.

Also 28 Saturday: Attend the second night of the 46th Annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival, a major highlight of the local musical year. Tonight’s Hill Auditorium show is headlined by veteran New York singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco. Also appearing: St. Paul & The Broken Bones, an 8-piece horn-fired Southern soul band, roots-music singer-songwriter Patty Griffin, Latin-folk singer-songwriter Gina Chavez, pop-folk sibling duo Oshima Brothers, soulful singer-songwriter Kyshona, alt-country Americana group the Jared Deck Band, and roots singer-songwriter Parker Millsap. Friday night's BanjoFest is sold out. 8 p.m., Hill Auditorium. Tickets $47.50–$250 in advance at the Michigan Union Ticket Office (763–TKTS) & theark.org and at the door.

See the Observer’s online calendar for many more local events. 

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